Malala Yousafzai, the educational campaigner from Swat valley in Pakistan, came to prominence by writing for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban. In her writings published under the pen name Gul Makai, she often spoke about her family’s fight for girls’ education in her community, which was deeply misogynistic and had a hypocritical approach towards issues pertaining to women. Malala’s father Ziauddin served as an educational campaigner in the Swat valley and founded Khushal School, the only all girls school in the entire valley, where Malala received her education. When Taliban took control of the Swat valley, Malala and her father continued with their educational campaigns for girls which were against the conventional ideals of Taliban. On Tuesday 9th October 2012, Malala was targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head at point black range while riding the bus home from school.
Malala’s miraculous recovery paved her journey from Swat valley to the halls of United Nations in New York. In recognition of her courage, Malala was honoured with the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2013. Six days after Malala Yousufzai delivered a historic address at the United Nations in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to mark the 1st anniversary of Malala Day, a Taliban fighter wrote a letter to her in which he tried to explain to Malala the reasons as to why she was attacked by the Taliban. Adnan Rashid, the author of the letter and a Talibani militant, is wanted in Pakistan on charges of attempting to assassinate Former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.
Rashid’s letter to Malala is reflective of the deep frustration within the Taliban camp in regards to the handling of the entire Malala episode. This becomes evident when Rashid states in his letter, “When you were attacked, it was shocking for me. I wish it would never have happened and I had advised you before.” While Rashid’s words do sound apologetic in the beginning, his standing as a Talib starts becoming obvious when he refrains from calling the attack on Malala “Un-Islamic” and leaves it on to Almighty Allah to decide on the same.
He further reasons that the Taliban did not attack Malala because she was “going to school” or because of her being an “education lover”. He goes on to claim that the Taliban is not opposed to the education of men and women but only plotted to kill Malala because she was running a smear campaign against the Taliban through her provocative writings and was derailing their efforts of bringing Islamic rule to Swat. Ironically, Rashid tries to establish the feminist and egalitarian credentials of the Taliban by rhetorically asking Malala as to why she was the only girl to be attacked when there were thousands of girls going to school “before and after the Taliban insurgency in Swat”.
The opening two paragraphs of Rashid’s letter point out at the dual-mindedness of a terrorist who is surprisingly liberal in an ultra-conservative terrorist organization. Rashid himself realizes the same as he points out at the beginning of the letter that he is writing to Malala in his “personal capacity” and his views might not be shared by the “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban” or other “Jihad outfits”. His expressing of remorse of the attack on Malala shows that many Talibs realize the negative impact which the entire episode has had on Taliban’s standing as an outfit in the pro-feminist Muslim-majority provinces of Pakistan. However, bound by his allegiance towards his terrorist organization, Rashid tries to justify the attack on Malala and shrewdly shies away from delving into the theological aspects of the debate on the “Malala Attack”.
After briefly enumerating on the reasons behind Taliban’s targeting of schools, which Rashid opines was also being done by the Pakistani army as both the army and Taliban were responsible for turning of schools into transit camps, Rashid tries to address the core issue of education. While solidly maintaining that Malala was attacked because of her propaganda and not educational-activism, Rashid tries to debunk the idea of secular education by going deep into the memory lane and praising the Islamic system of education prevalent in what he calls “Muslim India”. Among the many myths which Rashid moots in this letter include white lies like “Muslim India” being bereft of poverty, crisis and clash of civilizations. Citing an extract from the writing of Sir TB Macaulay, Rashid claims that the secular system of Western English education is premised on “producing more and more Asians in blood but English in taste, to produce more and more Africans in colour but English in opinion, to produce more and more non English people but English in morale.”
The religious fanaticism of this Talib starts becoming crystal clear when he stresses on Englishmen being “staunch supporters and slaves of Jews”. What unfolds next is an even more blatant assertion of religious exclusivism when Rashid quotes Malala and suggests that the only teacher and book which is capable of changing the world is the Quran as revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad and this needs to be specified for the well-being of the masses. Rashid’s letter is a clear endorsement of the theocratic bent of mind of the Taliban which is planked on the argument that while Taliban’s efforts are concerted on implementing the Quran and joining the world with its Creator, the United Nations intends to enslave the world by implementing man-made laws instead of the divinely ordained ones. Rashid reprimands Malala for supporting democracy and justice from the citadel of injustice ie the United Nations. He refers to the P-5 as a group of 5 wicked nations who have many a times stonewalled attempts of taking the Zionist State of Israel to task when all other nations were in favour of the same.
Instead of rationally addressing the subject of Taliban’s attacks on polio campaigners and apologizing for the same, as raised by Malala herself during her speech at the United Nations, Rashid resorts to usage of conspiracy theories and half truths by pointing out to forced sterilization of more than 1 million Muslim women in Uzbekistan. Quoting Bertrand Russell, Rashid says that Taliban’s reservations in regards to the polio vaccination programme are planked on the fact that they “produce the sort of character and sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable” which in turn were directed towards the establishment of “global education, global economy, global trade, global government and finally global religion”. Criticizing Malala for saying that Malala Day belongs to every individual who has raised his voice for their rights, Rashid asks Malala why such a day is not accorded to those who succumb to the mighty and peace loving Americans. He asks Malala would she have been accorded the same amount of media attention and sympathy had she been a victim of the American drone attacks. Mocking Malala, Rashid hopes that the Pakistanis, Indians and Burmese learn from the compassion of Muhammad, Gandhi and Buddha by putting an end to the butchery prevalent in Balochistan, Kashmir and Burma. Rashid concludes his letter to Malala by advising her to adopt Islamic and pushtoon culture, joining some Madrassah near her home town and learning from the Book of Allah. He further advises her to use the knowledge attained from the same to subvert the evil political goals of the elite Western nations.
While Rashid’s letter is geo-politically sound in terms of the unjust dominance and influence of the West, specifically America, he does little to justify the sexist and fanatic nature of his organization. Rashid’s letter only strengthens the image of the Taliban being a “religiously exclusivist” organization wherein rights of women are relegated to dressing up in traditional Islamic attire and learning about the Quran from some nearby Islamic school. Rashid’s tacit justification of the attack on Malala on grounds of her supposed provocative writings and his open support for Taliban’s anti-polio campaign, leave little space for a debate on whether Taliban’s goals are humane or not.
(This academic paper was originally written as part of a paper presentation competition at Delhi University by Saumyata Joshi and Saif Ahmad Khan. The authors would like to congratulate Malala Yousufzai on winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.)